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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Pain in the Neck

Faithful Catholic writes:
It does my heart good to hear you referring to some of your tasks related to the care of Sr. Mary Fiacre as "a pain in the neck." I care for my two elderly parents, both wheelchair bound and both incontinent. I worry constantly about my attitude about dealing with my "pain in the neck" tasks because I think I shouldn't think of them as such a pain in the neck. I care for them because I love them and because I want to keep the fourth commandment but, I sometimes think I might just be in trouble, not with the letter of the law but, with the spirit of it. Know what I mean? I have this notion in my head that I ought to be rejoicing in the less appealing chores but, I'm not. I feel like I'm cheating when I offer it up. Does this make any sense?

I'm delighted to hear it does your heart good. I've been thinking about bringing it up for some time now. The past year and a half to be exact. I think what stopped me are the gory details of what taking care of Sister Mary Fiacre actually entails, which would be an affront to her dignity.

And mine.

I finally just decided to throw caution to the wind and call a spade a spade. "Pain in the neck" pretty much covers the whole spectrum of chores. I'm very comfortable mentioning that is is indeed a pain in the neck because if it were a barrel of laughs I wouldn't have to offer it up or go searching for the joy in it or any of that. I'd just get up in the morning and say, "Oh Goody! We have some bedding to change for the next hour or so! This is going to be such fun!"

I worry constantly that you are worrying constantly. Your attitude may indeed be a problem. But it might not be. It's a tough nut to crack. Luckily it's nearing Christmas so there are a lot of nutcrackers lying around.

Let's ponder some of the stops along the way of your own private Stations of the Cross.

1. As I said, there would be nothing to offer up if it was jolly in the first place.

2. The joy comes from the suffering.

Wait right here. I need a bigger nutcracker.

Everyone knows that a gift you worked to make or find or buy, especially if we're all aware of all the work you put into it, is the best gift. It's the best gift even if comes out all wonky. It's the best gift because while you were trying to put it all together you were thinking of me.

That's one way to look at it.

Another way is to ponder the words of St. Angeli Merici, who admonished her nuns with this gem, "What you do for these people is more important for you than it is for them." She was talking about their work with the poor. I imagine she was mentioning to them not to get a swell head about all the fine work they were doing, but she ended up saying a real mouthful.

It's more important for you because it brings you humility and compassion that you can't get just going about your business of getting up and having coffee and heading off to work and coming home and watching a little tube and heading off for a good nights' sleep. It will make you stronger and more loving. It will expand the size of your heart the way the Grinch's heart got bigger before he was about to fall off a cliff with all the Christmas toys. It wouldn't do that if it were all easy breezy lemon squeezy.

On top of that, it's the gift that keeps on giving because your work now will expand your compassion to other people who are in the similar positions, which means all old people and the people who care for them, just for starters.

Which is why this is the part of your question I find a little unsettling: I care for them because I love them and because I want to keep the fourth commandment.

Commandment Schammandment, those are people in there! Look, there aren't any old people. You will learn this as you yourself grow old. You will always be about 35. Your body will change, your face will change. You may wonder where you can find the zipper on this 'old suit' you are being forced to wear.

So now, imagine being 35 and having, well, those problems you are dealing with. No fun for you? Imagine what a riot it is for them. They're just a couple of kids!

You don't have to rejoice every time you have to mop up, lift, shuffle, wait, haul, roll, fetch, stand up, sit down, mop up again and listen for odd sounds with radar bat ears. Once in a while is good for starters. Work your way up to most of the time. I'm not sure all of the time is possible.

For those times, offer it up.


Anonymous said...

It's such a difficult time in people's lives - and it comes to us all, unless we are incredibly fortunate. I looked after both my parents too, for 8 years - and I absolutely hated doing it. I felt used, put upon, taken for granted - I was their daughter, not their nurse, and my sibling waltzed off saying "I don't know how you cope...." There is still, and I think, will always be, a rift between us, to this day.
I was taking care of 3 teenagers and an invalid husband at the same time - and I hope I will never, ever, have to do any of it again, for anybody.
What terrifies me more, is the thought that someone may have to do it for me - I have wondered, often, what to do about that......

Whimsy said...

I have a brood of little ones. Very often in public, other people are forced to wait around because of us. For example, if we go to the library, it takes some time for all of us to get through the door. Perhaps a little self-consciously, my standard line to help pass the time is: "I always tell the kids that it's my turn to wait on them now, but when I'm eighty, they will be waiting on me. You know what they say about paybacks!"

Anonymous said...

I'm almost afraid to post a comment because I get shot down so often when I do -- but usually it's because I don't word my comments very well.

This post hit home to me though - I've mentioned (I think) my late husband who died at the age of 37. I was 36 when he died. We'd been married for almost 14 years. He had rapid, chronic multiple sclerosis and by the time he died he had been bedridden, incontinent, blind, catheterized, colostomy, feeding tube in this stomach, could only move one arm - and that wiggled all over the place, he was blind and his legs could no longer straighten out.

He had his first seizure on our honeymoon in Orlando, Fla. due to the heat we think.

We didn't get his diagnosis until shortly after our 2nd anniversary - and we thought he would only go blind because that was his worst symptom at the time... so, he took Braille but had to give it up because it soon became apparent that he couldn't feel the bumps. We had a baby thinking that we'd better hurry up or he wouldn't be able to SEE the child - much less play with him - and he lost his job when I was 3 months pregnant with our son.

Our son was born and soon afterwards my husband had to start using a walker - but he had rapid, chronic and progressive - never a remission to his case. By the time our son was 5, my husband was bed bound in a hospital bed in our living room and I cared for him until he died in my arms from septicemia, pneumonia and a UTI.

We were unable to have conjugal relations from when I was approximately 24 until he died - when I was 36.

I remained faithful to him and I grew in so many ways from that experience. I loved him when I married him - but in a way it was such an immature love - I learned so much about love from those 14 years of my life. So much about LIFE and the sanctity of it and the dignity of it and the wonderfulness of it - just as it is - without the accoutrements of wealth or fame or eye appeal. I learned that our life is here to serve others - and I don't mean specifically MY life serving my late husband either - I mean HIS life served ME and gave ME the knowledge of the dignity of MY life -- that I could partake in his suffering made me realize that I could partake in Jesus' suffering - and in the suffering of all the pain in the whole world. And the value of it.

Pain and suffering would have no value if Christ had not come into this world to redeem us. We can't have a 1/2 full cup unless we also have a 1/2 empty cup.

I loved him - and I carried out my duties sometimes like a real b**ch, unfortunately. But not always. Most of the time I grinned and bore it. Most of the time I was amazed at what I could do and what he lived with.

Our son grew up to be a phenomenal person. He's 25 now. Not the brightest bulb on the tree, but kind and generous and so very loving.

I wouldn't trade what I've been through for all the tea in China - nor would I ask to do it again though.

Tom in Vegas said...

Faithful Catholic-

Praying for you.


ann nonymous said...

Dear Sister,

Thank you for your reply. I fear I wasn't exactly clear in my post but, I am reading and rereading your response and praying for some clarity. I'll respond again when I've found it.

Dear Alexa,

I'm sorry you feel you get shot down when you post but, I want to thank you for sharing your experience. It has been most helpful to me to read what you've written, especially the part about your husband serving you. That really hits home for me.

Dear Tom,

Thanks for your prayers. As always, I appreciate them and you!

Anonymous said...

Sister: Thanks so much for your comment about there being NO OLD PEOPLE. It is so true. I cared for my mother in her last months and therre were many times when I thought how humiliating it must be for her to be cared for in such ways by her daughter. She even said once that she had never dreamed that she would come to that pass. she was still young and beautiful inside and was saddled with an old, worn out body. It was my privilege to care for her during those last hard times, but I really hope that my children don't have to do that for me.